Will Christie Emerge from the Storm as 'America's Governor'?

Back in the early days of the Republican primary season, when many prospectives still hadn’t given a definitive answer on whether or not they’d toss their hats into the ring, many GOPs promoted a Chris Christie candidacy as one that could rally the base and pulverize President Obama in a debate.

Six days out from an election isn’t the time to rethink whether the ballot should have been different, especially since Christie didn’t want to run. He also stepped up as a surrogate for Mitt Romney, though his Republican National Convention speech didn’t have much to do with the Massachusetts governor.

But Hurricane Sandy has added new dimensions to Christie’s future campaign resume — a tell-it-like-it-is guy who cast a red shadow on a blue state, but also a guy who threw partisanship to the wind days before a critical election and embraced a president he once wholly criticized.

A natural disaster is an unfortunate kingmaker, but Hurricane Sandy could have short-term implications for the presidential race and long-term effects on Christie — or, as public partners in hurricane cleanup, both the president and the governor could see reverberations.

With his decree that his home state’s well-being trumps electioneering, Christie reached across the aisle in an essential declaration that, in a crisis, there should be no aisle.

With his effusive praise for Obama’s storm help and statement that he wasn’t interested in Romney coming to tour the devastation, Christie warmed the hearts of more moderates and Democrats than the Republican base.

With his no-bull style, such as when he ordered evacuations (and called out Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford for not getting everyone out), and amply evident heartfelt attachment to his state, Christie captured attention as a guy who’d put his state first no matter the national fallout.

As Rudy Giuliani was “America’s mayor” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Christie may be remembered as “America’s governor” post-Sandy.

“We’re now going to mix sorrow with determination and we’re going to move forward as a strong and resolute people to make sure that we rebuild our state and we do what needs to be done,” Christie told Piers Morgan on CNN last night.

“This is much more important than any election, Piers,” he said. “This is the livelihood of the people in my state and when the president does things that deserve praise, I will give him praise. And when the president does things that deserve scorn, I will give him scorn. And I think people know that about me. But I am not going to play politics with this issue. This is so much bigger than an election.”

Christie received scorn today from Rush Limbaugh, who said the New Jersey Republican “has decided to play the role of a Greek column today for President Obama” as the commander in chief toured hurricane damage with the governor.

“Chris Christie’s the only Republican out there not just praising Obama, I mean, let’s just put it this way: Is it wrong for one man to love another man? But that man love out there, it’s isolated to the state of New Jersey,” Limbaugh said on his radio show.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker said he found Christie’s supportive words for the president “not at all” surprising.

“We are in a state of crisis all across this state. And you know, when you’re in a crisis, you don’t stop and ask your fellow New Jerseyan, your first responder, you don’t ask if they’re Republican or Democrat, you don’t ask them how they choose to pray to their God,” Booker said on CNN this morning. “You just pull together and do what’s necessary.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that “we reached out, I believe, to New Jersey and worked with the governor’s office to make this trip happen.” He danced around a question regarding what the president could get out of it politically.

Carney said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s statement that he didn’t want the president to visit “was agreeing with our assessment, which is that it was not appropriate at this time.”

Obama and FEMA director Craig Fugate touched down in Atlantic City just after 1 p.m. this afternoon, where he was greeted by Christie. The trio boarded a helicopter to survey the damage from the air, and the White House pool reporter noted the word “Romney” had been drawn in the sand at the north end of Point Pleasant Beach.

The officials then visited a community center in Brigantine, N.J., which is being used as a shelter. “I want to just let you know that your governor is working overtime to make sure that as soon as possible everybody can get back to normal,” Obama told the residents assembled at tables.

“It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknoweldge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey and I appreciate it very much,” Christie said.

On subsequent tour stops, Obama stopped to take photos with Christie and residents and handed out Air Force One M&Ms to kids.

“I’m pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things while we were in the car riding together,” Christie said of his wish list for federal help — everything from clean water to getting kids back to school — in joint remarks with Obama.

“So I want to thank him for that. He has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit,” the governor continued. “I think this is our sixth conversation since the weekend, and it’s been a great working relationship to make sure that we’re doing the jobs that people elected us to do. And I cannot thank the President enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state. And I heard it on the phone conversations with him, and I was able to witness it today personally.”

To residents he met on the tour who didn’t heed orders “to get the hell out of here,” Christie said, “You are forgiven this time, but not for much longer.”

Obama lauded Christie as being at “the top of my list” of those to thank.

“I have to say that Governor Christie throughout this process has been responsive; he has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm,” the president said. “And I think the people of New Jersey recognize that he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before. So I just want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership and partnership.”

“The president is doing what he needs to do as president, and this is the case of the governor doing his job,” Romney senior adviser Russ Schriefer told reporters on a conference call. “That’s it.”

Christie praised the president for being quick in getting disaster aid moving forward, and Democrats moved quickly to seize on that generosity.

Immediately after the tour, N.J. Sens. Robert Menendez (D) and Frank Lautenberg (D) sent a letter to the administration asking that the federal share for disaster response be upped ASAP due to the storm’s devastating effect on the state.

“The extraordinary scope of this disaster warrants an immediate increase in the federal portion of the cost-share from the typical 75 percent to 90 to 100 percent,” they wrote to Obama.